It was a sad Christmas for the friends and family of singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt, as the artist passed away on Friday (December 25) after spending two days in a coma thanks to an overdose of muscle relaxers. Chesnutt was 45 years old. The Athens, Georgia-based Chesnutt was something of an icon in the indie rock community who wrote spare, darkly comic tunes about love and death. His famous fans included R.E.M. frontman Michael Stipe (another Athens native), Smashing Pumpkins frontman Billy Corgan and former Throwing Muses frontwoman Kristin Hersh.
When he was 18, Chesnutt was in a car accident that left him paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair, but he did not let his disability stop him from writing or performing. Stipe discovered him and produced his first two albums Little and West of Rome. He put out a total of 13 records over his career (including two in 2009), though he is probably best known for the 1998 compilation Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation, a benefit CD that saw artists like Garbage, Live, Soul Asylum and Madonna covering Chesnutt’s tunes. The album was a benefit for the Sweet Relief Fund, which sought to provide health care to musicians who needed it (Chesnutt himself was often a recipient of such support, as his paralysis left him with soaring medical bills).
“In the few short years that we knew him personally, Vic transformed our sense of what true character, grace and determination are all about,” said the founders of Constellation Records, the label that put out Chesnutt’s albums. “Our grief is inexpressible and Vic’s absence unfathomable.”